IBM Model M Keyboard


Model M KeyboardIn the data center where my office resides, where there are usually only the same 30 or so permanent residents working in the secure environment, rarely does a month go by where I do not receive some mention about my keyboard. Most of these mentions are from vendors or occasional meeting goers who have worked in IT for a long time. Why would anyone comment on a keyboard? Sometimes the person catches a glimpse, but they hear it more often than not—the excellent buckling springs of my IBM Model M keyboard, the finest keyboard ever made by some accounts. I felt compelled to write this post early in the life of Iron_Geek as most of my posts will be composed with an IBM Model M keyboard.

I entered the IT world when it was common to find IBM equipment throughout your office or computer lab. You often heard your coworkers clicking away on what sounded somewhat like a Selectric typewriter. Still, they were pounding away on a terminal or IBM PC, often with some buckling spring keyboard such as the IBM Model M keyboard. The Model M is a tank of a keyboard that weighs about 5 pounds; you could use it to defend yourself from a zombie. I loved the feel of these keyboards, and for many years, you did not think about how awesome they were; these keyboards were standard issue. All the commodity PCs started entering the office with their flashy plastic keyboards that made no sound and offered fancy media controls that most of us never used. If you started with a Model M keyboard, you quickly found these spongey keyboards junk. This opinion is backed up by the many Model M keyboards manufactured in the 1980s that are still working today.

Each Model M has a sticker on the bottom with a Part Number, FRU number, manufacture date, and other odds and ends, including the Made in the USA part. These keyboards were manufactured when things were made to last. I have a few Model M Keyboards, which I might wax poetically about later, but the one here in the office has a date of 03APR92. This keyboard was on my desk with a PC running OS/2 back in the 1990s, and I kept the keyboard when that machine was retired. The keyboard traveled with me to different jobs since that time, including the offices of EDS and HP, where it was especially appreciated by many a coworker or visitor.

The Model M has a spring under each key, and when you type, the spring buckles provide feedback to your fingers and a click. I find the feedback and click a more pleasant typing experience. One of the significant innovations with touch screens is the haptic feedback the keyboards provide, and to me, there is little wonder that most folks prefer this type of feedback. This, of course, is all a matter of personal taste; I learned to type on an electric typewriter, something most folks have never used or never will use. So for me, the Model M was a natural transition from the typewriter, and I enjoyed the feel of a mechanical keyboard.

You can find Model M Keyboards on eBay. New ones are still manufactured in a tiny factory in Kentucky by Unicomp, a company founded by Neil Muyskens, a former electrical engineer at an IBM plant. I have one keyboard from Unicomp, it is a fine keyboard, but it is not built as heavy as you will find in the Model Ms from IBM and Lexmark. If you want to experience the Model M, I recommend finding an original with part number 1391401. If you are fortunate or do not mind paying the ridiculous price, you can find a Model M SSK with part number 1391472. Even if you find a broken keyboard, some folks out there can repair the Model M and even modernize it a little. Maxx, the gentleman over at Phosphorglow, is a true artist. I had some issues with my keyboard, and he restored her to the original working condition, and I had him add a classy copper underlay. If you noticed the underlay in the photo, that is not original.